The Yankees Baseball…

The Yankees’ “Goldilocks Baseball” and Why Baseball Needs a New Ball

So the Yankees baseball or “Goldilocks baseball” made headlines in 2022, but it’s still a burning issue that’s also a golden opportunity for MLB to prove it cares about the future of Yankees baseball, major-league pitching talent, baseball in every state, and the kids who play it.

The Yankees Baseball (Juiced Baseball) Problem

In case you missed the news, the 2022 story focused on astrophysicist Dr. Meredith Wills’ study that discovered clear and significant differences in the behavior of baseballs used in that baseball season. The Yankees baseball or “Goldilocks ball” had the ideal composition for long flight, and it was used exclusively during special occasions (like the postseason) and… during Yankees games as Aaron Judge “successfully” pursued and broke the Roger Maris’ home run record.

In a related story that we’re going to lump in with the Yankees baseball, it seems every few years several well-respected players are incensed about the inconsistent behavior of the baseball used in MLB. Usually it’s talk of either a “juiced ball” or a “dead ball” that either flies out if looked at crossly (former) or performs like a beanbag (latter). It looks pretty poor when some of the top stars of the sport are incensed on a regular basis about the inconsistent behavior of the ball that the entire sport revolves around.

The fact is that, in the “Game of Inches,” we expect consistent behaviors that aren’t feasible with a ball that’s a motley sack of animal and plant parts.

– This Modest Proposal

The Pitcher Injury Problem

The Yankees baseball was 2022. Now, in a related story in our opinion, baseball is staring at another challenge – the epidemic of pitching injuries, affecting some of the brightest stars in the sport. What’s the connection and what’s the opportunity?

The Spider Tack Problem

Let’s not forget the controversy that now has umpires asking pitchers for bizarrely fond handshakes when they leave the field. Spider tack and other sticky stuff has long been a problem. Too much of it, and it’s cheating.

No sticky stuff on a cold and rainy day? Many MLB pitchers say that lack of grip causes pitcher injuries and can lead to lack of control. Obviously, lack of control means more beanings, more bad pitching performances, and possibly player deaths. The standard ball, by many accounts, is not grippy enough for safe use at the highest levels of the sport.

Let’s also not forget the strange shamanic ritual with New Jersey mud that Major League Baseball thinks is the solution to the slippery baseball problem. Yes, the teams are tasked with rubbing the baseballs with a specific kind of south Jersey fishing hole mud to give them the desired color and grip.

Do you think this magic mud is enough to give a pitcher a secure grip on a 101-mph fastball on a cold, humid, rainy October day in Seattle or New England? Yeah, we didn’t think so either.

The Scraping Blood Off Home Plate Problem

Okay, watch this video only if you have a strong stomach. Baseball regularly has a problem with players getting injured by errant baseballs, partly because of grip problems.

The number of players in MLB is quite small, but we think it’s important that we remember all the children and young adults who play. This NIH study on traumatic brain injury (TBI) in baseball and softball contains this alarming sentence: “Severity of TBIs varied considerably from mild and returning to the field on the same day, to immediate death.”

The Common Thread

Waittttt… what do all these… um… challenges have in common?

The design of the baseball. The fact is that, in the “Game of Inches,” we expect consistent behaviors that aren’t feasible with a ball that’s a motley sack of animal and plant parts. Golf and tennis, like baseball, are strongly affected by ball characteristics, and they went synthetic long before the current baseball players were born.

MLB loves embracing that pristine image of old-fashioned, salt-of-the-earth baseball players. Baseball purists are dedicated to those naturalistic elements: the smell of leather gloves, the limited-lifetime wood bats, the verdant green of outfield grass, the magic mud that the umpires rub the balls with, the cork and yarn of the baseballs —

Wait, what? Yarn and cork, really? It makes a mockery of Statcast and sabermetrics when your ball is made of wound-up YARN, leather, cork, and string, like some kind of sloppy scrapbooking experiment. Baseball is called “the game of inches” because an inch can be the difference between an out and a homerun, a bounding triple and an out. If the ball’s made with these inconsistent, homespun materials, how can we claim this sport and its historic records and statistics to be sacred and inviolable?

In our opinion, the opportunity is clear. MLB needs to take the sport to the next level and solve ALL of these problems with one simple solution.

The official baseball needs to be synthetic, just like golf balls and tennis balls.

Baseball needs to move on from the inconsistent leather, cork, and yarn ball just like golf moved on from a leather ball filled with cow hair. Of course MLB owns the overseas factories where these relics are made, further increasing their resistance to change, but change is indeed necessary.

Get rid of those ridiculous cowpouches of yarn – and the stupid ritual of rubbing them with magic mud – and move to a synthetic ball that has uniform tack, performs in rain and cold, can be mass produced at scale, and doesn’t maim and kill children.

“This is a ridiculous and profane suggestion!” you may be saying. Meanwhile, the forward-thinking NBA and Wilson just released a 3D-printed latticed basketball.

How Feasible Is It To Fix The Baseball?

Is it too much to ask manufacturers to build a synthetic baseball of this description? Why haven’t we seen this for youth leagues, for example?

We’re really asking for three things:

  • a consistent, similar-weight ball that flies and bounces like the old baseball,
  • a ball that is easy to grip even in cold and wet weather, and
  • a ball that doesn’t kill children.

We haven’t seen this kind of ball in the market precisely because no one has asked for it. The first two criteria are only important at the highest levels of the sport. In Little League, no one is tracking home run records or playing in arctic temperatures in the rain. And the last criteria – well, just search up “safety baseball.” You’ll find dozens of options that don’t kill kids, and they’re made of synthetic materials wrapped up in white leather and red thread for that “official look and feel.”

We believe goals 1 and 2 are compatible, as are 2 and 3. 2 is fairly easy, because grip can be created with a thin, tough outer skin. The 1 and 3 combo is the trickiest – the energy the ball generates off the bat when struck is also largely dependent on its density and mass. However, we’re confident that a good team could make a synthetic baseball that could do all three with at least some degree of success.

One key reason for our confidence is that the current ball’s flight behaviors – and its lethality – are largely based on it being hard. (This is the same attribute that kills kids, and it’s not part of the game. If the ball were 100% softer, but flew and bounced like a baseball, nothing would change.) If the ball were slightly softer, slightly lighter, and slightly springier, we believe we’d have a suitable prototype that could be tested in the minor leagues… and that would save lives.

The Yankees Baseball Fix: Recap

We don’t expect the mendacious, solution-averse Rob Manfred MLB to take such a strategic move, but we urge fans and players to support this clearly necessary change to avoid more Yankees baseball problems, more juiced ball controversies, more pitcher injuries, more sticky stuff problems, more beanings, and more child deaths and maimings.

Let’s fix the obsolete baseball. It’s time for a change.


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